At 6 p.m. on the afternoon of Saturday, July 1, city officials swung hammers and bars to demolish a crude church structure in a slum area of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). The "church" had been erected only hours before by Christians who were led to believe that they had permission to build. When the bewildered Christians met for Sunday worship the next day on the site in the Thu Thiem district they were further harassed by militia videotaping the proceedings."This is a sad but perhaps predictable event in the on-going story of Christians in Vietnam trying to do things the 'legal' way, but ending up frustrated," said a Vietnam watcher. He added that "freedom of religion" guaranteed in the constitution and trumpeted by Party leaders has many qualifiers in communist Vietnam. In 1991, Mr. Nguyen Trong Tai and Pastor Truong van Nganh sought permission to hold worship services at Thu Thiem on the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City at a home in the An Khanh Residential Quarter. Though officials did not grant written permission, there was a tacit understanding that allowed the Christians to meet there for seven years. Officials were informed about church functions and essentially left the believers alone.A change in local administration led to a raid on the Christian gathering on February 22, 1998. All Bibles and materials were confiscated and the Christians were charged with "illegally holding a worship service." This led to endless interrogations of the leaders and a hefty fine. Authorities refused to allow the Christians to resume meeting for worship. In 1999 Pastor Nganh went from office to office throughout the city seeking permission to resume worship, finally receiving verbal assurances that he could build a simple chapel ...

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